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Seldom has history been made in such dramatic fashion. Americans have emphatically turned their backs on eight years of Republican rule under George W. Bush and embraced an inexperienced 47-year-old African-American Democrat senator from Chicago, Illinois, with his mantra – “Change the country needs” as president.
Here with me in our Washington studio – with the Capitol building behind me as a stunning backdrop – to discuss the massive implications of the Obama win a veteran America-watcher Martin Walker, my old friend, Clarence Page, a senior columnist with the ‘Chicago Tribune’ – in Barack Obama’s home town – and Megan Ortegas, who’s a Republican Party strategist. And Arne Arneson, a radio host and commentator – no stranger to our ‘Dateline’ viewers – is actually in Chicago as we speak, surrounded by delirious Barack Obama fans and supporters, I would imagine.
GEORGE NEGUS: Arne, can you hear us?
ARNE ANDERSON, RADIO HOST AND COMMENTATOR: I can here you but the competition is incredible, but that’s fine with me.
GEORGE NEGUS: Arne, we now know that it’s happened – what all the people thought was impossible a few years ago and even probably a few weeks ago in some cases. Is this is a better result overall for Barack Obama than even his wildest supporters expected? The L-word is being used – ‘landslide’.
ARNE ANDERSON: Well, it’s an incredible result and George, what you have to understand is that in the Democratic primary Barack Obama did the unthinkable. He opened a new door. What he did tonight, was he allowed the American people
to walk through that door. It is remarkable. It is palpable. When they announced
that Barack Obama won you should have seen everyone fly out of the media tent and there was crying and screaming. And I think it really is about new dreams
and an apology to the world – it’s eight years of mistakes and now it’s time to change.
GEORGE NEGUS: Martin, if I could go to you. We journalists tend to use
words like ‘historic’ freely as though we really know what it means. But this is probably an occasion when the word ‘historic’ is not out of place, is it?
MARTIN WALKER, POLITICAL ANALYST: ‘Historic’ would be an underestimate. I think the word is ‘epochal’. This is a new epoch in America. It’s also a new epoch for the world, because – let’s be frank – what we’ve really elected here is the guy who is the nearest thing to president of the world, particularly as we’re going into this global recession, because if this guy and his team can’t crack it then we are all in trouble.
GEORGE NEGUS: Clarence, I read a quote the other day from Anita Hill, who most of us know only too well – a person who’s been campaigning and working for this sort of thing for years. And she said that what Barack Obama’s election as president means, is that no longer will black Americans feel as though they can’t hold office in any job in this country, from president down. She also said that it indicates how far this country has come in the last 40 years.
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: It does. I started in this business almost 40 years ago. Time does fly. I’m old enough to remember that when I was my son’s age I still had to go to ‘white’ and ‘colored’ water fountains in the South. Virginia just put Barack Obama over the top – that was one of the states of the old South, it was the capital of the old Confederacy. I always told my son, “This is your century – I’m just walking around in it.” He has been out there knocking on doors in New Mexico for Barack Obama and when the man went over the top I congratulated my son because he put his work into it. But this is really hard for me to fathom now, because I’d been imagining this day – I wasn’t expecting it to come this soon. I saw Jesse Jackson crying at the celebration, and I think about my 101-year-old grandmother who died last year – didn’t quite live to see this – and you think of all the people who’ve gone before us, and what that means. It is epochal. This is changing the way that Americans look at themselves, I’m sure. It’s not just black Americans, I think, everybody. After eight years of really dwindling image around the planet, now all of a sudden the world is looking at us and seeing once again something to look up to in America. We kind of like that.
GEORGE NEGUS: Megan, I have to say that Senator John McCain was gracious in defeat, but I don’t think that your side of American politics expected the thumping that you got today.
MEGAN ORTEGAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know we did expect it. We all saw the polls and the exit polls.
GEORGE NEGUS: When did you write it off? When did you honestly believe that there was no chance…
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I never write off elections until the bitter end. I’ve been through enough, even at my young age now, to see that anything can happen in American politics. What I think was great about today, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat – I agree with all of you that this is a historic event but really this is what John McCain fought for for so many years. This is why he spent five and a half years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison so that one day we can look up and see a young man like Barack Obama break every racial barrier. Really, in what other country in the world could this happen? Even as a Republican, I’m proud of my country. Barack Obama’s going to be my president over the next four years, and we’ll go at it again in 2012. We’ll see if he makes it eight!
MARTIN WALKER: George, I’m just remembering that it’s 40 years ago when Martin Luther King was shot, and the day before he died he gave a speech in which he said “I’m not going to get there to the promised land with you, but you’re going to get there, this country will get there”. In a way, tonight it’s got there.
CLARENCE PAGE: “One day soon we will get to the Promised Land” that’s what he said. Moses wandered in the Promised Land for 40 years. I did a column earlier this year, about…Isn’t this a coincidence? 40 years later this black man has the possibility…And Barack himself preached in Alabama about “the Joshua generation”. It was Joshua who took ‘the children of Israel’ into the Promised Land.
GEORGE NEGUS: We’re getting biblically poetic here – we’re saying that the USA has come out of the wilderness!
MARTIN WALKER: I think it’s become the first country in the world perhaps to go into a real post-racial status. Maybe South Africa with Mandela began to point the way there, but this is something extraordinarily new. What’s interesting is that it’s happening just at the time when we are seeing this similarly historic change in the way the global system the global economy, works. We’re seeing the rise of the new challengers, the new giants, the China’s, the India’s. Lo and behold, here is America keeping up with history, getting ahead of history and also signalling that this is the new world.
CLARENCE PAGE: I have to say for our Republican friends this could have happened back in ’95, ’96. I was one of those who wanted Colin Powell to run.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: We wanted him too, you know!
CLARENCE PAGE: Everybody wanted him.
MARTIN WALKER: Look who he endorsed this time.
CLARENCE PAGE: Look who he endorsed this time! This was so ironic. There was so much similarity. I was telling people Colin Powell’s endorsement would be a big help to Obama. Because I knew so many people who said, “I’m not sure about that Barack Obama, but if he was Colin Powell, I’d vote for him.”
GEORGE NEGUS: Listening to Megan and hearing John McCain, in fact, are we also looking at the possibility – you say it’s the post-racism period – bipartisan politics?
MARTIN WALKER: Something really fascinating that I heard today from a very well placed Democratic source, there’s three big jobs in the Obama cabinet – the secretary of state, there’s the head of the secretary of the Treasury, and there’s the head of the Pentagon. Of those three, the usual laws of American politics – and Obama’s promise to reach out – means that one of those three is going to be a Republican, one’s probably going to be a woman. Who does that leave you? I’ve heard that Senator McCain, the defeated Republican today, is now very high on the short list to take over the Pentagon.
GEORGE NEGUS: You’re joking!
MARTIN WALKER: I am NOT joking. If is not McCain it’s going to be Hagel.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think John McCain would accept?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: If asked, I’m sure he would serve. I have not heard that. Even as a Republican there are those of us in the foreign policy establishment who wouldn’t be thrilled with Hagel, even though he IS a Republican. We have heard rumours that he’ll keep Secretary Gates in as well. But what I think is pretty clear is that he’ll keep General Petraeus in. And that really signals a…
GEORGE NEGUS: Explain this to simple working Australian journalist. I find it impossible to understand how a man who said he would chase Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell and will not leave Iraq until it’s ‘victory’, in his terms, could be working for a man like Barack Obama, whose attitude towards the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East is quite different from his.
MARTIN WALKER: It’s the concept of ‘service’ that we saw with Colin Powell, who stuck with his president, George Bush, like the good soldier that he was. I’m sure that, if called, Senator McCain would be a good soldier, as he was in Vietnam all those years ago. What’s interesting is that among the names I’m hearing for Treasury, it suggests it doesn’t matter who you vote for, Goldman Sachs always gets in. Ruben is Goldman Sachs – it’s a very strong…
CLARENCE PAGE: What about Warren Buffett?
MARTIN WALKER: I think it could well be a woman, I think perhaps Laura Tyson. I think there from the FDIC…
GEORGE NEGUS: Basically what you’re saying is that it’s a whole new ball game? The new politics of Obama is not just a question of the rhetoric that we’ve been hearing on the stump. You think he’s capable of changing the way that American politics works, generally?
MARTIN WALKER: He always said that he was going to reach out across the aisle, and I’m sure that he will.
CLARENCE PAGE: The irony here is that he and John McCain were both aisle-reachers – they were both moderates in their parties who upset the extremes and that’s why I don’t find it that hard to imagine the two of them working together on formulating foreign policy…
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I have to disagree. I don’t really think we saw a record of bipartisanship at the legislative level with Senator Obama. He has been in the Senate less than four years – two of those four years he’s been campaigning for president. I’m not saying he doesn’t have the ability to do that but we haven’t really seen his buck…
MARTIN WALKER: Where I disagree with Clarence here is that I don’t think it’s a question of these two aisle-crossers, or these two centrists. I think what we’ve seen here is a victory for the ‘insurgents’. Because a year ago,
McCain was written off – in effect, he was running against his own party, he’s certainly run against his own president. This was an insurgent campaign by McCain. And look at Obama beating the Clinton machine, beating Hillary, that was an insurgency if ever I saw it. This has been almost a Maoist event in which the guerrillas have taken over the commanding heights, the cities of party politics.
GEORGE NEGUS: That’s the only diss that Barack Obama’s not been called – ‘socialist’, ‘Marxist’, ‘redistributionist’!
CLARENCE PAGE: I think they’re both pragmatists. Everybody’s been saying for the last few months, “What happened to the old McCain we used to know?” In recent months he ran as a right-winger. That’s why he finally brought in
Sarah Palin, because he had to firm up his base. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has been running as a moderate – and while he has not crossed the aisle to suit you or John McCain recently – I think that was all calculated on his part, because back in Illinois he WAS known for crossing divides of race, party, urban-suburban, etc, and getting ethics legislation through, which is not easy to do
in Illinois, believe me.
MARTIN WALKER: What we’ve seen tonight has been a boot up the bum for the old politics of America.
GEORGE NEGUS: Nicely put!
MARTIN WALKER: Everything’s really been changed. As of tonight, there is not one single Republican congressman left in the whole of New England. Extraordinary.
CLARENCE PAGE: I’m old enough to have seen change before, Martin, so I have a ‘wait and see’ attitude.
GEORGE NEGUS: Before we get bogged down too much in the minutia of American politics, there was almost the case during the campaign that it was “Don’t mention the war. It’s definitely The economy, stupid, but “Don’t mention the war”. Does that more-or-less summarise the campaign?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I think the dirty little secret of 2008 is the fact that John McCain said he’d rather lose an election…”I’d rather win a war and lose an election,” was his quote. Really, that’s frankly what has happened to him. We’ve seen basically Barack Obama’s policies – I don’t think the 16-month timetable is really going to happen, he’s going to keep Petraeus in. He’s basically going to be a little more conservative than Bush is, but on Iraq, really, the policies between McCain and Obama aren’t that starkly different. So what the media really has underreported on here in the US is the incredible success that was the surge. So McCain went out on a limb. He was tied with Bush. That’s really when this narrative started, if you all remember – he, in December of ’06, he came out in favour of the surge policy and they all said,”Oh, you’re just like Bush.” The narrative started there, and it hasn’t ended until now.
MARTIN WALKER: Don’t get carried away, Megan – “incredible success” are hardly the words for what’s happening in Iraq.
GEORGE NEGUS: He’s like George Bush, but John McCain is not George Bush – let’s leave it there, but we’ll keep talking. Martin, Pennsylvania we always knew was going to be crucial. You told me last week when I spoke to you – you thought that it would be the key. Is it a way of suggesting that Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the entire country and the change that’s occurred?
MARTIN WALKER: No, not really. It’s too white for that, it’s too old for that, it’s too rust-belt traditional industry for that. The really bizarre thing about this – this was McCain’s last stand, this was his big hope. Whatever it was he paid his private pollsters, he ought to get his money back. They told him he had a shot in Pennsylvania. He lost by nearly 15%.
GEORGE NEGUS: How did they get it that wrong, Megan?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Polls can be inaccurate at times. Really, I don’t think they had any other opportunity. I don’t know if we necessarily can blame the pollsters – but they had to go with something, and Pennsylvania at the time looked like it would be the most likely situation where we could pull off victory. I was always a bit sceptical, simply because Ed Rendell has an incredible organisation as far as ground game goes, and the Democrats for a long time have held Pennsylvania. If McCain could have flipped it, it would have been very important, but certainly the odds were against him and he didn’t do it.
MARTIN WALKER: If he could have done it, it would’ve been one word – ‘abortion’. A lot of Catholics, and indeed one of the leading Democrats there is famous for being anti-abortion himself. That was what they went for. Sarah Palin had a lot of following in the countryside, the rural areas of west Pennsylvania, but it was never really on the cards – not a 15% margin, it’s huge.
CLARENCE PAGE: This was not the year for social issues. You can see, for one thing, abortion and other social issues just didn’t have traction this year. It was the year of change. And if you looked at the charts of the polls, and the poll of polls, when the economic collapse occurred that was when McCain’s numbers collapsed and Obama’s numbers surged.
GEORGE NEGUS: If you had to name a point?
CLARENCE PAGE: Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy – it was on that date that you began to see the McCain numbers go down.
GEORGE NEGUS: Is it possible to argue that Barack Obama only won – as easily as he did, if not at all – because of the financial crisis?
MARTIN WALKER: McCain was neck-and-neck and even ahead at the time when Lehman Brother went bankrupt.
CLARENCE PAGE: Sarah Palin – the ‘Palin bounce’ was already beginning to fade but the numbers went off the cliff with Lehman Brothers.
GEORGE NEGUS: John McCain made it very easy for the Obama camp on the whole economic score – i.e. admitted that he knows very little about economics then tried to tell people that the fundamentals of the economy were fine when the place was crashing down around people’s ears.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I still think there’s a case to be made that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, but I’m one of those few people who still thinks that, apparently. You know, what John McCain did really wrong was a message in point of view. This campaign ran tactic after tactic after tactic. I think if President Bush had not said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” since the beginning of this year repeatedly, I don’t think it would have been such a damaging line. But President Bush came out and said that in radio address after speech – I can remember hearing him on multiple occasions – so when John McCain said it we all thought, “Why in the world is he repeating this Bush line?” I thought that was a mistake – this kind of repeating rhetoric that the Bush Administration had said so often.
GEORGE NEGUS: But that line that he used – “I am not George Bush” – did not really resonate all that well out in the electorate?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: It was a little late for that.
GEORGE NEGUS: That’s something again that not just Australians, but, I imagine, people all over the world are finding it hard to understand – that John McCain was almost running against George Bush as hard as Barack Obama was running against the Republican Party. What’s going on ideologically?
CLARENCE PAGE: He wasn’t alone. I mean, how many candidates did George Bush campaign with? The answer is simple – zero.
MARTIN WALKER: He had to carry…This country breaks down as about 40% conservative, 40% moderate, 20% liberal. McCain had to carry the party’s base. That’s why he called on Sarah Palin as vice-president. That’s why he had to – not entirely – sever himself from Bush. He had to bring the base along with him. That had to be the basis of any hope that he had.
CLARENCE PAGE: I disagree. He had to sever himself from Bush – Bush was absolutely no help to him, even when… well, they WERE staying home – that’s why they brought Sarah Palin in.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let’s talk about Sarah Palin. Plus or a minus? Are we going to see more of her down the track? I know that Martin believes we are.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I think a net-neutral at this point. What I do feel, though, is, as a young woman, I’ve spent most of my political career arguing that a woman can be in a leadership role – president, vice-president of the United States. The last time we had a female who was taken seriously as vice-president I was two years old. We all talk about this election in these grand, historic terms. For me, to see a woman as the potential vice-president of the United States on a Republican ticket, finally, it was very moving for me and my peers.
CLARENCE PAGE: Do you think she was the best woman for him to have chosen? There are other Republican women out there – in the Senate…
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Sure. She was certainly the best at this time, I think.
CLARENCE PAGE: Really? Better than any of the women in the Senate?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Well, McCain didn’t get along with a few of the women in the Senate.
CLARENCE PAGE: Did that make Palin better, though?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: It was the best choice for McCain. Was Palin the best choice for vice-president?
GEORGE NEGUS: You could say that the McCain campaign would have gone really, really down had it not been for Palin – the pizazz that surrounded her.
CLARENCE PAGE: I want to know if there was another Republican woman…
GEORGE NEGUS: I’m not familiar enough with Republican women!
MARTIN WALKER: I want to tell you one thing that really changed matters for Sarah Palin and that was the success of Tina Fey on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in coming up with one of the most brilliant and accurate – and yet cruelly devastating – caricatures that we have ever seen. A wonderful impersonation that changed the perception of Sarah Palin from middle of September, when she was this wonderful new star on the political horizon and suddenly she’s the national joke.
GEORGE NEGUS: But you don’t think she’s a joke. You think she’s seriously considering…
MARTIN WALKER: I think she’s going to be one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2012. She’ll battle against Newt Gingrich and win and if Obama is a 1-term president it could be
Sarah Palin versus Hillary in 2012 for the presidency.
GEORGE NEGUS: You heard it first here!
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Let’s not count out…My long-shot for 2012 – and I can’t believe we’re already talking about this – is General Petraeus. That’s who I think we’ll see in 2012.
GEORGE NEGUS: He’s not a woman.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: No. But I’m sure…
CLARENCE PAGE: It’s a sign of your youth that you think four years is a long time. I know better now.
GEORGE NEGUS: Joining us now from New York Australian James Wolfensohn who stepped down three years ago I think it was after 10 years as president of the World Bank, now a US citizen. James, thanks for your time. Good the talk to you.
JAMES WOLFENSOHN, FORMER WORLD BANK PRESIDENT: Nice to talk to you.
GEORGE NEGUS: I was wondering, given your expertise and your experience with the world economy, would you really like to be Barack Obama at the moment, having to take over the reins of the American economy and the impact it’s had upon the world economy?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well, I think he has the most difficult job that any American president Elect has had coming into the global scene. He’s got a $10,000 billion deficit in the United States. He’s got a banking situation where the world central banks have had to come in and pump nearly $9,000 billion into the banks and he has a huge overlay of bad debts around the world and within all of that, he’s got to try and get the economy moving again and stop a decline. So, he has a very, very tough job to do.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think he’s up to it from what you have seen and heard?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well, I think he has around him some very good people that he could bring in. People like Bob Rubin, Larry summers and my friend Paul Volker. There are many people around him who have the expertise to try and help, so he could bring in an excellent team. I think he himself has not had a lot of experience, but I think he has both the brains and the judgment to bring in the right people.
GEORGE NEGUS: Jim, your experience of the world economy is vast, as we know, but on a more general level, the rest of the world’s attitude towards selection has been intriguing. The Europeans are 60% in favour of Barack Obama becoming the US president, the Chinese wanted him US President and other countries have. Obama-mania seems to have spread throughout the globe. Is that going to make his job easier or harder, because Joe Biden reckons he will be tested?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: He will be very much tested. He and Joe Biden will be the most difficult challenge, as I said, that any incoming president or Vice President could have. I think there is a welcome to him because I think the rest of the world felt that the Republicans have not done a great job in the last eight years. But the task ahead of him is not just to provide liquidity to the banks, what has to work through the system are all of the bad debts that are there and to try and restore some sense of enthusiasm so that the economies of the world don’t go into a recession. It is almost certain now that there will be a recession and then Barack Obama has to lead the world by trying to turn that around, as the leader of the largest economy in the world.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you share John McCain’s view that he is a redistributionist?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well, I think he’s a redistributionist that is clear. It is part of the democratic platform, but the issue for me is not the re-distribution, the more particular issue and the great focal issue at the moment is not changing the tax rates. It is really getting the economy moving again and we have to get the American economy moving again if you are going to get the rest of the world to have the sort of optimism and drive that is necessary.
GEORGE NEGUS: Thanks very much for talking with us. Don’t go away, we will try and get back to you. We have Arne Arneson who is at Grant Park in Chicago. Arne, are you with us this time?
ARNE ANRNESON: I’m very much with you this time and I’m rocking to the beat of the music.
GEORGE NEGUS: The rock-star president.
ARNE ARNESON: Absolutely the rock-star president. The place is out of its mind. It is so exciting, George.
GEORGE NEGUS: Well, I guess the party has to be over at some stage, Arne. The hard work is still ahead of this guy and we still don’t know how good he is going to be on the job.
ARNE ARNESON: Well, you know, but you were just talking before about the economy and what is he going to do. It is a question of two things: He’s already shown he’s remarkable judgment. Now the question is, is he willing to take risks? Because you and I both know no-one really has a clue as to what to do, so it is going to be a combination of both and the world needs him to exercise both.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let’s ask Jim Wolfensohn what he thinks of that. What should his first move be on the financial and economic front, Jim?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I think the first move is to put together an incredible team. I think he should announce it very quickly who the team is. He should reach out to those people that are involved in the economy. He should as quickly as he can bring in both industrialists and trade union leaders. He should essentially weld a financial program that is meaningful and, as you know, very shortly we have twenty heads of State coming here. It is very important that he participate with them because the major issue they are coming on is not political. It is financial. It is economic. So he needs to assert himself very early and show that he can put a good team in.
GEORGE NEGUS: Martin Walker raised his eyebrows at that suggestion, Jim, that he should take part in that discussion. I would imagine, Martin, you going to tell us that George W. Bush wouldn’t have a bar of that.
MARTIN WALKER: I was talking with some of Obama’s staff, he’s not planning on attending because this is an event being hosted by George W. Bush. It is the G20 group. It is not the usual G7. It is China and Russia, it’s lots of the other medium-sized economies and the fact it is going to be George W. Bush doing the invitation, means what on earth does Obama do in this situation? If he signs up to the George W. Bush solution or to the George W. Bush package that comes out of this, then he’s lost control of his own economic agenda. If he doesn’t, that’s going to mean a real sort of sense of disappointment for the global markets. We’re in this situation where we are damned if he does, we’re damned if he don’t. If Obama ducks this meeting, global markets are going to be really disappointed, but if he does go along, he’ll be find himself trapped at a George W. Bush event. It is a real problem.
CLARENCE PAGE: There is a precedent though, President Franklin Roosevelt was invited by Herbert Hoover to enter into a joint statement to close the banks and take drastic action and Roosevelt said, “Not on your life, buddy. This is your administration.”
MARTIN WALKER: This is the problem. We don’t have that eleven weeks to waste this time, not with the state of the global economy.
CLARENEC PAGE: We are going to waste it, Martin. That’s the way it is. This is Bush’s watch. Anything that happens on it is Bush. Obama regime starts when he gets sworn-in. Then you will see action.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let’s get Jim’s view on that. Can the US and the world afford to wait until January 20th? Or is the situation getting so bad financially around the world that time is time we can’t waste?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I mean, I respect the judgment of the other people, but I think definitively we cannot wait. I think it is very, very important, despite the fact that it is a George W. Bush convoked meeting that he assert himself and I don’t think any of the other foreign leaders are going to look to the guidance of President Bush at this time. They are going to be looking at Barack Obama. I think half of them are coming here – I know the truth is that half of them are coming here on the expectation that Obama will be invited. If he is not invited, my own judgment is you’re not going to get much out of these meetings because they are not going to expect that President Bush is going to be able to deliver.
MARTIN WALKER: I gather the best we could hope for there are attempts to organise a second meeting convened by Obama the day after the George W. Bush session closes and I suppose that could just about work. It means it will be a real mess. The problem is, it’s not just we don’t have the time for the global economy and the markets to wait for this, it is also going to really erode Obama’s global honeymoon and that’s a real tragedy.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: I really will be disappointed, frankly, if he doesn’t take part in this meeting. If he’s going to keep repeating in his campaign that we’re moving past politics as usual, what better than to grab George W. Bush and say, “We’re going to go in and fix this economy and tackle this problem head-on.” I don’t see how he ignores this meeting without getting incredible fault from the American people for not attending. I think it would be negligent, frankly, to not be part of it.
CLARENCE PAGE: Look what happens to John McCain when he decided, “I’m going to stop my campaign and engage in discussions on the economy.” He demonstrated his own irrelevance. You made a good point, Martin, when you said that Obama’s role will be awkward. This is not his administration and also it is not his Congress. We don’t just change the White House, we change our congress at the time that Obama gets sworn in. I think it makes perfect sense for him to say, “No, this is your watch, President Bush. You take care of it.”
MARTIN WALKER: You are saying we have one President at a time.
CLARENCE PAGE: Exactly.
GEORGE NEGUS: To broaden this even further if we could, Jim, what do you feel about the fact the US being on the nose, as it is in so many parts of the globe at the moment, and every now and then in the campaign this question of America’s reputation, its status in the world, its lack of respect that it is feeling at the moment, you as an internationalist, which you clearly are, will the world take heart from the fact that Barack Obama is now the President of the United States of America? Is America standing in the world likely to improve as a result of him being in the White House?
JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I think that the impression, as you know, from the polls was that it was 3-1 for Obama against a Republican candidate. The world is fed up with eight years of the economic policies of President Bush. He is a very decent man, but the economic policies have not worked. I think it’s affected the rest of the world. In fact, the deputy Secretary of the Treasury at the last meeting said the finance ministers have apologised on behalf of the United States for what has happened in the world. So, I believe personally that there is no time; I believe it is essential for the new team to come in. Certainly they can’t take immediate responsibility because they’re not sworn-in, but what they can do is get moving quickly and build relationships and I don’t think there is a moment to lose. That’s my personal view.
GEORGE NEGUS: Jim, thanks very much for joining us. It is good to talk to you. It looks like one thing we know for sure is that Joe Biden was right, he will be tested and pretty smartly.
CLARENCE PAGE: The job is a task. That is typical Biden malarkey. We love him because he’s so full of it.
GEORGE NEGUS: And our friends in Phoenix, I don’t know they are actually celebrating, though, Megan.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Well, listen, it was a tough campaign for us, for those of us who have been cheering on John McCain since 1999.
GEORGE NEGUS: You have got to stick with it. It’s been a long time. As a committed Republican, you’ve got to stick with it. Do you think you’re in with a chance in four years’ time?
MEAGN ORTEGAS: Absolutely. This is my party. I couldn’t be more proud of John McCain.
GEORGE NEGUS: It is your party and you will cry if you want to?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Exactly. In 2000 it was the first time I could vote, I was a McKain-iac, I was living in college in Florida. So for me, the John McKain candidacy and finally getting the nomination, see him get to this point, it’s been my – I spent my adult life watching him get to this point. He’s been the candidate I’ve been cheering for the whole time. Now it’s certainlt a place for new Republican leadership and we will see who emerges. Will it be the traditional forces and the Newt Gingrich we have seen since 1994, will it be Sarah Palin? Who else will rise to the scene and I think just like Barack Obama proved with the Democratic Party, I think four years is quite a long time and I think a lot can happen. This party will reassess, will rebuild and will come back strong.
MARTIN WALKER: This party is going to go through a civil war. What we have seen with this party over this cycle has been the class war within Republican Party. It’s always been an unhappy alliance between the country club Republicans that vote with the economic interest and the wealthy, the industrialists and the bond holders and so on and the red necks, if you like. The Pentecontalists and the people who speak in tongues, like the people who go to Sarah Palin’s church in Alaska. This has been a kind of class war taking place in which the yahoos have taken over the asylum. The country club Republicans have disappeared. I was talking just 24 hours ago; I was talking with senior Republicans, Ken Duberstein who had been Reagan’s Chief of Staff, Lucky Roosevelt, she was Reagan’s head of protocol and Susan Eisenhower, grand daughter of the President. They are all for Obama. Why? Because they’re the traditional Washington elite upper class, country club Republicans, they can’t stand Sarah Palin and they can’t stand what’s happened to their party. This party is about to fall apart. Megan, I’m delighted that you are here with us rather than going off and drinking the ‘Coolade’ …
MEGAN ORTEGAS: The farmer and the cowman can be friends as the old song goes. It is an interesting alliance between the country club and the red neck, as you say. What is great about America and the Coalition with Ronald Reagan, the person who is the lower class can one day become the wealthy person in Manhattan. I come from a family who, we were just talking about this during the break, servants from Spain and now my father is a proud business owner. It is the American dream.
MARTIN WALKER: It is a lot less true than it was, Megan. This recession we are heading into will make it tougher.
CLARENCE PAGE: Do we have a moment to give Megan a break. The immigrant vision that you articulated is very important one for the Reagan people. You are absolutely right. Kevin Philips on nine different kinds of Republicans in that coalition, Barack Obama grabbed that immigrant dream because his father was a Democrat…
GEORGE NEGUS: Let’s give her a really serious free kick – do you believe that Barack Obama is a closet socialist?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: You know, I don’t know and the reason I don’t know is because he has such a short record and well, it’s been four years that he’s been in the national public light. If you look what he ran on, his platform when he was running for senator in Illinois, it was quite different than what he actually voted on. He ran against a tax cut plan, but he never actually voted for tax cuts when he was in the Senate.
MARTIN WALKER: I can tell you that Obama’s economic platform is to the right of that of the British Conservatives. That’s how socialist he is.
CLARENCE PAGE: So is Teddy Kennedy’s.
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Listen, if you can compare us to Europe, that’s a completely different story.
CLARENCE PAGE: I want to know does socialist mean anything to your generation?
MEGAN ORTEGAS: Yeah, of course it does.
MARTIN WALKER: If we are talking Socialist, Hank Poulson, Secretary to the Treasury…
GEORGE NEGUS: Another program. Another program. Another program, Another time. What I would like to ask you, Clarence, please tell me, HE, the man of the moment, can’t really walk on water? What do you think his first mistake might be?
CLARENCE PAGE: Well, I think – he’s made mistakes. He would tell you that stick around Reverend Wright’s church for twenty years was a mistake, sticking as close to Bill Heirs as he did, although Bill Heirs is a smart man who’s been misjudged by this media coverage. But Barack Obama, it is underestimated to say that he is inexperienced. He has more experience than Abraham Lincoln did as far as Washington is concerned when he came from Illinois. What Lincoln and Obama both show, their strength is in leadership. They are able to read people, work with people, assess the times and get in front of them and lead. That’s what we have seen him do. What that study dust carried him through. A lot of people said he may not be an economic genius but I think he can get us out of this mess.
GEORGE NEGUS: We’ve got the global and economic financial crisis, two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve got the challenge of climate change, hello. I don’t think the world has stopped warming up. I think the boy’s will be a bit busy.
CLARENCE PAGE: Of course. President Bush was opposed to the Kyoto Treaty…
MARTIN WALKER: The immediate problem that he’s got is what is he going to do about Afghanistan? What he has said in the campaign is Afghanistan is the good war he wants to pursue. He wants to reinforce. The Europeans are telling him, “No, we aren’t going to carry on fighting in Afghanistan.” The moment he says to the Europeans, “Send more troops, the honeymoon is over’.” It is not going the happen. Iraq is still a huge problem. I think he will duck out of Afghanistan.
CLARENCE PAGE: He will get more involved in Pakistan. That’s what he said.
MARTIN WALKER: The big question is where will his first trip be? I think he’s going to have to go to Asia, then perhaps to Africa and Europe will be well down the totem pole.
GEORGE NEGUS: On that international note – let’s leave it there. We are out of time. We are out of time; we have to leave it there. Thanks to our guests.